Hamburg Olympic Triathlon, Part II: Racing in Rain

Julio’s saga continues! This is the continuation of a report on one of our bigger team events this year in Hamburg Germany last weekend. For part I of Julio’s account, click here.

The German Hamburg ITU triathlon is bigger, better and more perfectly organized when compared to French events.

[There was a punchline to that sentence originally, but it got censored. I’ll leave it to your imaginations.]

The event itself takes place right in the centre of Hamburg and centres round the Alster lake and finishes in front of the impressive Rathaus (city hall).  There are multiple sprint & olympic races over 2 days, including ones for elite athletes and national teams.

[click images to zoom]

course map


Everyone except Julio & Bertrand started in the 8:20am wave, which meant an early start & a leisurely warm-up bike ride to the transition area. Once there, we positioned our rental bikes in the racks & dropped our T1 and T2 gear in our the individual yellow boxes we were provided.

With a water temperature of 21.7C (just below the 22C no wet-suit rule that applied in this race), most of us decided to wear wetsuits for the extra buoyancy. Marie and Alex raced in their tri-suits only. We then dropped of our post-race gear in a blue bag tagged with our race number, and made our way to start line

Warm up

The waves were every 10 minutes.  Our wave gave a collective warm-up and big cheer and jump to prove that our wave was the best. (This was repeated every wave).

Aurelie then took charge and we followed, figuring that as the fastest swimmer she knew where to position us along the 100m-wide start platform. We ended up on the far left near the buoys and we could all agree that this was an excellent place, as we could see the bridges (through which we had to swim) straight ahead, while at the same time having the buoys as a marker to our left.

We all jumped into the water and swam to a line that was hanging in the water. There we had a bit of hustle and bustle with some Spanish triathletes, who positioned themselves in front of us. But apart from that, the line was straight (no boats involved telling people to get back; it was all very civilized and disciplined). And with a big beep we were off…

And now the race…in the racers’ own words


For my 1st Olympic experience, I will remember one major thing: it is not enough to train with a bike around the Polygon like a hamster in his cage!

It is also important to know how to change an inner tube under the rain…or how to charm a German policeman to make him help you pump up the tire!


We always remember our first times, and I will remember these: first time competing in Germany, on a rented bike, under heavy rain, having all throughout the race a face that makes you want to destroy for good all 21 official pictures taken by the race organizers.

And the first time trying Beer recovery therapy (after Paris tri Champagne therapy).

Oh and yes, watching the elite relay made me become a crazy yelly chauvinist Frenchwoman. But it would not have been so good a weekend without all the team-mates and cheerleaders there.

Aurélie at start of the run

Alex, triathlete to become (still)

Sport competitions are all about breaking personal records and pushing your limits by doing things you had never done before.

I had never breast stroked for 1400 metres, nor shivered for 10 km while riding a bike, nor shaken for 30 minutes under 2 blankets in a heated truck.

I’m happy to cross these off the list.

Acting as a pace setter for the run and the numerous recovery beers in great company made the weekend well worth it though!



I started off well, although I was somewhat hindered and surrounded by a group of Spanish triathletes (mentioned above). However, having listened to the tales of many an Expatries veteran, I employed some high elbow techniques, a quick flutter of kicks and some strong underwater pulls and I was clear.

From then on all went well, until about the 1000m mark, where I was overtaken by somebody doing breast stroke, so clearly there was a stronger positive current where he was swimming so I moved to join him there (note to self: need to train 3 times/week instead of 3 times/month to increase stamina).

No matter, I exited the water in 32 min 28 s – a new personal best. But from there on, I should have more clearly noted the signs of the malheur to come. The transition from the swim was quite a long one (about 300-400m), so while I managed to get my wetsuit unzipped while running, I was not quite ready for the zipper to get stuck in the top third of the wetsuit and no amount on yanking nor zip up & down again helped; I had to stop to Houdini my torso out of this rubber layer. During or shortly after, I was passed by Phil in the transition and my spirits were lifted; the chase was on & I had a great marker in Fit Phil.

The bike started off well and I was getting in a cadence and started to overtake people. Soon I was flying over the Reeperbahn (famous red-light district, where hen and bachelor parties had taken place the night before left behind lots of broken glass). However when these same people started over taking me, I realised that something was wrong….a rear flat tire.

The tire change-over took longer than expected; partly as the tools provided for the rental bike were not the best & partly as rolling your eyes and shaking your head does not help. Anyway soon I was pumping away, when the pump falls apart: one part is on the wheel and one part in my hand.

No matter, a friendly German is going to get his super-duper compressor pump. 5 minutes later he arrives, with indeed a super-duper pump. During this time a queue of 3 people has formed, as people are getting flats left and right on this Reeperbahn section.

Anyway, pumping away for another five minutes, turns out that the spare tire itself already is flat (this might have something to do with what Marie found out, the bike rental agency is charging 10 euro/inner tube, which might lead some to quietly slip the old tube back in the pouch). No matter, the friendly German has another possible solution at hand: back to the house he goes to get some “Milch”. At the time, this did not make sense to me, as Milch is milk, but at the moment I was ready to try whatever solution, no matter what. Five minutes later back he comes with what looks indeed like something professional that you squeeze in the tire…but of course not with the tires that I have :-(….game over….dreams up into thin air…..DNF.

Hence I decide to do the alternative Hamburg triathlon. Soon a small walking peloton of 10 triathletes is formed; we maintain a good pace, while walking on our cycling shoes. Back on the Reeperbahn, we resemble a sporty bachelor party with our bikes and our tri-suits (which some of the locals might think to be fancy mankinis); one of us even gets chatted up by a drunk woman (at 10 am). We finally find a U-bahn station for our 2nd transition, reach the Hamburg triathlon area, where we change.

Strangely enough, even though I am shivering from walking 1.5 hours in the rain, I am utterly surprised to find my shoes, towel and other stuff completely soaked (note to self: Bring plastic bag and raincoat next time).

I manage to get in to finish area from the exit side and just miss Ionut but shortly after see Phil and Aurelie finish….followed later by Marie, Alex (also doing an alternative triathlon) and then from the stands Julio.

My estimated time for this alternative triathlon 2hr35min…a new personal best in my alternative triathlon series…..still hoping to get some points for this for the Expatriés challenge!



I took some days before the race to get accustomed with the local lifestyle. Pay attention to the food and beers, these might not be your best friends before the race. Take as much sauna and jacuzzi as you can, the German way: naked!

Two days before the race I had an easy run along the Alster lake (the lake loop is around 8Km) to get comfortable with the terrain as most of the triathlon running was on the lakeshore.

ITU organized a practice swimming into the Alster lake the day before the race, on Saturday. Even if the triathlon swimming was on a different part of the lake, the test session was much appreciated and allowed me to get used to the pitch-dark lake water. The water temperature was around 21°C and I did the test session in trunks, but I was planning to wear a wetsuit during the race.

The olympic distance competition started early in the morning on Sunday. I was on the C wave which had the start at 8:20AM. The entrance in the unique transition area was allowed from 7AM. I was the first to arrive. I should say that I was nervous, but in the same time focused on what was about to come and determined to do a good race.

The previous swimming training in the open water (Cergy lake, France) definitely paid off. The Alster lake’s segments under the bridges were perfect occasions to accelerate as I had the same feeling as when you drive a car through a tunnel, the dark amplifies the sounds and makes you want to get out, to see light. It started raining while we were in the water, not a good sign for the cycling part.

The cycling, putting aside the continuous cold rain, was one of the best moments to gain some time: nearly flat run, with few turns and wide roads. There were no incidents though many people had punctures.

The running was fast with some very good runners. I found my rhythm and enjoyed the running more than ever. I was running with new shoes, which at the end was not a bad idea.

I enjoyed my race, but more that the race I was happy to see the Elites competing on Saturday, individual sprint distance. I had the chance to be close to the swimming start and had the Elites running and cycling 2m in front of me. I must say that the feeling was great and I was very impressed by their performance and determination. They are a good example to follow!



I learned that when it rains, it is better to leave the shoes in the transition area upside down!



Hamburg Triathlon was high in my bucket list for a very long time. My gut feels always told me this race rocks. It does.

So almost a year ago it turned into something I wanted to share, enjoy and organise for the Expat crew. I was set do my utmost to turn this into a really cool weekend. Little by little my race did not matter so much anymore, I wanted to have a special moment with the team.

The race itself was tough, hard feelings would strike along the way.

On paper the swim was a walk in the park, with the best ever conditions I ever encountered. Clean water, loads of space, a small wave and last but not least disciplined German swimming around. Yay!

But, oh boy, wait for it: it only took me 100m to have a complete sudden drop of energy. Yes, 100m.
Literally nothing to move forward. As a consequence I cannot even breathe anymore and end up being forced to breast stroke for the next 600m.

By the time I reach half way I am able to slowly drag my way back crawling, even imagining myself writing this actual post (true!). I am asking myself what will I write as the reasons why this is happening to me. Even now looking back, I cannot really explain this, especially so early in a race. No, really not. Ok I was a bit sick, ok I was a bit tired… but not stressed. There is no learning here to date.

Whilst I run out of the water I pass by Ed, give him a cheer, at least he looks a happy chap!

The bike was cool, the very wet condition are fine by me. I get overtaken by huge guys with slightly frightening names on bikes coming from future. Funky! 1h14 later, job done.

Time to run. After a couple of kms, my mind starts to enter some dark places, bringing to life some negative memories. Not good. All of a sudden my throat is getting squeezed, leaving what feels like only a needle of room to let me breathe. I keep running and manage the struggle. It came back several times before going completely away.

The rest of the run goes on, I see Ionut in his good old hopping style, running really fast toward the finish line. I can see he is going for it and loving it, that’s great. Later I overtake Aurelie, she looks solid and I cheer her!

I cross the finish line, the nightmare is over.

Learning: until this day, to me Triathlon was a physical challenge with my mind generating motivation. When I’m in the zone, my brain always functioned in “save energy” mode. I have little oxygen available, so no space for any other thoughts than getting forward. This weekend I learned the hard way that your mind can play tricks on your body. Out of the blue you can get carried away in some shadowy places with instant impact on your body.

To conclude, I spent an incredible WE, surrounded by lovely people. I really had a good time and was so pleased to see people having so much fun, before, during and after the race. Taking this bunch to Hamburg and watching them was a real pleasure, way beyond any king of personal sport result. This is what I will take with me.




What would you expect? Yet more beers, accompanied by wiener schnitzel, at the canal-side Rialto Restaurant.

post-race lunch

Race results

Name Dossard Swim T1 Bike T2 Run Overall
Marie Vettier 11379 0:38:19 0:07:10 1:46:00 0:05:20 1:01:35 3:38:22
Alexandre Fleury 11380 0:41:51 0:08:04 Hypothermia 0:05:21 1:01:35
Phildo Stadnik 11381 0:33:25 0:04:50 1:13:43 0:03:25 0:45:11 2:40:32
Ionut Pirva 11382 0:30:56 0:04:22 1:13:09 0:03:40 0:41:38 2:33:44
Ed Van de Log 11384 0:32:28 0:06:09 2 flats
Aurelie Stoven 12422 0:27:38 0:05:28 1:16:02 0:04:21 0:48:24 2:41:51
Julio Aprea 12546 0:31:02 0:05:30 1:11:41 0:03:27 0:47:27 2:39:05
Bertrand Bataille 13967 0:35:27 0:06:25 1:18:17 0:04:42 0:52:09 2:56:58

What’s next?

Next year ITU Stockholm, where Alex will host all Expatries at his place.

Prepare your sleeping bags! Fur-coated wet suits might be allowed!

Click here for to read Hamburg Olympic Triathlon, Part I: Beers and Boats.